Single motherhood and life satisfaction: the effect of financial strain, work-life conflict and cultural norms

Matthias Pollmann-Schult, Social Science Research Center Berlin

Research on parental well-being usually stresses that single mothers are significantly less happy than partnered mothers. This study provides new insights into the effect of single motherhood on life satisfaction by investigating the extent to which the single motherhood penalty in life satisfaction results from higher levels of stress and strain. Using data from the European Social Survey for 25 European countries, my analysis shows that lower levels of life satisfaction among single mothers result partly from higher levels of financial hardship and work-life conflict. The size of the single motherhood penalty also depends on the cultural context. Mothers in countries with stronger cultural support for single parenthood report smaller penalties than mothers in countries with less cultural support. However, differences in life satisfaction between single mothers and single non-mothers are fairly small, suggesting that the single motherhood penalty stem rather from being single than from being a parent. This finding clearly challenges the notion that single motherhood inevitably reduces women’s life satisfaction and substantiates qualitative findings suggesting that also single motherhood can yield important benefits.

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Presented in Session 122: Maternal age, living environments and well-being